Looking Up: Mutual aid

Looking Up: Mutual aid

“We’re all there in the beginning when there’s a crisis,” says local activist and social worker Shanna Goldman. “The hardest part is later. Love is not a one-time event.”

She was talking about the benefit concert coming up next week for Jason Martin, a luminary in the local music scene. Martin was brutally attacked, twice, a couple of years ago. The community rallied around him at the time, but when Goldman learned he was still struggling with physical, emotional, and financial repercussions—and running out of money to do the things that had been helping—she wanted to do something. (The event is Sept. 14, 6:30-10pm, Oakwood Community Center in Troy.)

“I get frustrated with how we forget,” she says, speaking not only about Martin’s experience, but larger crises like the flooding in Texas or a police killing. “You can’t just talk about it for six months and have it go away.”

Clearly, acute group trauma is racking up new numbers right now, between hurricanes Irma and Harvey, forest fires on the West Coast, flooding in Central Asia, and all the things that might have happened between writing this and publishing it. This spate of no-shit-climate-change-is-here disasters are, of course, are just piling onto (and being exacerbated by) the not new though increasingly more blatant violence from white supremacists, whether it comes through federal decrees, law enforcement, or individual terrorists. Meanwhile, the whole range of other structural and personal traumas that exist in our society don’t disappear just because climate change has come home to roost and Trumpism is ascendent.

Clearly, acute responses are necessary. Calling your legislators to protest DACA repeal (please mention that there should be no exchange for border wall funding when they fix it either) and giving to disaster relief (directly to individuals or on-the-ground organizations is most efficient) are baseline decency at the moment, but also really important. Being one of the people from all walks of life and political persuasions who are showing up to rescue and cook for and support those in need is heroic, as is being one of those risking arrest to fight against dangerous and inhumane policies.

And yet, it’s seductive but dangerous to divide the world into heroes and the rest of us, and into things that are a crisis right now and things that are no longer a priority.

To quote organizer Didi Delgado: “Overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who need help right now? Don’t be. Give what you can. Help where you can. Be generous. Budget your time and resources so you aren’t over or under-extending yourself. Encourage others to care and realize the importance of wealth distribution. Keep focusing on the most marginalized. It’s not your job to save everybody. It’s our collective job to make sure everyone is taken care of. Whatever you do, don’t get apathetic.”

I would add to that, learn about how trauma works, the kind of effects it can leave behind, and the ways in which organizations of all sorts need to take that into account. There’s been a lot of work done lately on methods of creating trauma-aware organizations, from schools to nonprofits (where both clients and staff are often carrying trauma histories).

We’re all going to need more understanding of how trauma works, how prevalent it is, and what it actually takes to help people through it. And this isn’t a call to just retreat inward and think about personal issues. It’s connected—participating in empowering grassroots organizing is actually good for your mental health, and creating spaces where we can take care of each other and people’s varying levels of trauma history will make us and our organizing spaces more effective and sustainable. Mutual aid is going to be increasingly important from here on out. Figuring out what will make it sustainable beyond adrenaline is going to be crucial.

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